Vengeful Page 2

“Ah, Marce, you’ve always known how to rile me up.”

“Let me go,” she hissed.

Marcus brought his face close to hers, ran a hand through her hair, cupped her cheek. “Only if you play nice.”

He was smiling. Smiling. As if this were just another game.

Marcella spit her blood into his face.

Her husband let out a long-suffering sigh. And then he slammed her head against the table.

Marcella’s world went suddenly white. She didn’t remember falling, but when her vision flickered back she was on the silk carpet beside her chair, her head throbbing. She tried to get up, but the room swayed viciously. Bile rose in her throat, and she rolled over, vomited.

“You should have let it go,” said Marcus.

Blood ran into one of her eyes, staining the dining room red as her husband reached out and wrapped his hand around the nearest candelabra. “I always hated these,” he said, tipping the pole until it fell.

The flame caught the silk curtains on the way down, before the candelabra hit the floor.

Marcella struggled to her hands and knees. She felt like she was underwater. Slow, too slow.

Marcus stood in the doorway, watching. Just watching.

A steak knife gleamed on the hardwood floor. Marcella forced herself up through the heavy air. She was almost there when the blow hit her from behind. Marcus had knocked over the second candelabra. It came crashing down, iron arms pinning her to the floor.

It was disconcerting how fast the fire had spread. It leapt from the curtain to a puddle of spilled bourbon, to the tablecloth and the rug. It was already everywhere.

Marcus’s voice, through the haze. “We had a good run, Marce.”

That fucking prick. As if any of it had been his idea, his doing. “You’re nothing without me,” she said, her words unsteady. “I made you, Marcus.” She heaved against the candelabra. It didn’t move. “I will unmake you.”

“People say a lot of things before they die, sweetheart. I’ve heard them all.”

Heat filled the room, her lungs, her head. Marcella coughed, but couldn’t catch her breath. “I will ruin you.”

There was no answer.

“Do you hear me, Marcus?”

Nothing, only silence.

“I will ruin you!”

She screamed the words until her throat burned, until the smoke stole her vision, and her voice, and even then it echoed in her head, her last thoughts following her down, down, down into the dark.

I will ruin you.

I will ruin.

I will.


* * *

OFFICER Perry Carson had been stuck on the twenty-seventh level of Radical Raid for the better part of an hour when he heard an engine rev to life. He looked up in time to see Marcus Riggins’s sleek black sedan peel out of the slate half circle that formed the mansion’s drive. It tore down the road, a good thirty over the suburb-mandated speed limit, but Perry wasn’t in a patrol car, and even if he had been, he hadn’t spent the last three weeks in this shit-heap eating greasy takeout just to bust Riggins for such a minor infraction.

No, the Merit PD needed something that would stick—and not just to Marc the Shark. They needed the whole crooked sea.

Perry settled back against the worn leather and returned to his game, cracking the twenty-seventh level just as he smelled smoke.

No doubt some asshole setting a poolside bonfire without a permit. He squinted out the window—it was late, half past ten, the sky an inky black this far from Merit, and the smoke didn’t stand out against the dark.

But the fire did.

The officer was out of the car and across the street by the time the flames lit the front windows of the Riggins mansion. Calling it in by the time he reached the front door. It was unlocked—thank god it was unlocked—and he threw it open, already composing his report. He’d say it was ajar, say he heard a call for help, even though the truth was he didn’t hear anything but the crack of burning wood, the whoosh of flame sliding up the hall.

“Police!” he called through the smoke. “Is anyone here?”

He’d seen Marcella Riggins arrive home. But he hadn’t seen her leave. The sedan had gone by fast, but not fast enough to leave any doubt—there was no one in the passenger seat.

Perry coughed into his sleeve. Sirens were already sounding in the distance. He knew he should go back outside and wait, outside, where the air was clean and cool and safe.

But then he rounded the corner and saw the body trapped beneath a coil of iron the size of a coatrack. The tapers had all melted, but Perry realized it was a candelabra. Who even owned a candelabra?

Perry reached for its stem and then recoiled—it was searing to the touch. He cursed himself. The metal arms had already burned through Marcella’s dress wherever they touched her, the skin raw and red, but the woman didn’t cry out, didn’t scream.

She wasn’t moving. Her eyes were closed and blood slicked the side of her head, matting the dark hair against her scalp.

He felt for a pulse, and found one that fluttered, then seemed to fall away beneath his touch. The fire was getting hotter. The smoke was getting thicker.

“Shit shit shit,” muttered Perry, scanning the room as sirens wailed outside. A pitcher of water had spilled across a napkin, leaving it unburnt. He wrapped the cloth around his hand and then took hold of the candelabra. The damp fabric hissed and heat shot toward his fingers as he heaved the iron bar up with all his strength. It lifted, and rolled off Marcella’s body just as voices filled the hall. Firefighters came storming into the house.

“In here!” he wheezed, choking on the smoke.

A pair of firemen cut through the haze right before the ceiling groaned and a chandelier came toppling down. It shattered against the dining room table, which split and threw up flames, and the next thing Perry knew, he was being hauled backward out of the room and the burning mansion, and into the cool night.

Another firefighter followed close behind, Marcella’s body slung over one shoulder.

Outside, the trucks were splayed across the manicured lawn, and ambulance lights strobed across the slate drive.

The house was going up in flames, and his hand was throbbing, his lungs burned, and Perry didn’t give a damn about any of it. The only thing he cared about right then and there was saving the life of Marcella Riggins. Marcella, who had always flashed a wan smile and a pert wave to the cops whenever she was followed. Marcella, who would never, ever snitch on her crooked husband.

But judging by the gash in her head, and the house on fire, and the husband’s swift departure, there was a chance her position had changed. And Perry wasn’t about to waste it.

Hoses sent jets of water into the flames, and Perry hacked and spat, but pulled away from an oxygen mask as two medics loaded Marcella onto a stretcher.

“She’s not breathing,” said a medic, cutting open her dress.

Perry jogged after the medics.

“No pulse,” said the other, beginning compressions.

“Then bring it back!” shouted Perry, hauling himself up into the ambulance. He couldn’t put a corpse on the stand.

“Ox-sat levels tanking,” said the first, strapping an oxygen mask over Marcella’s nose and mouth. Her temperature was too high, and the medic pulled out a stack of cold packs and began to break the seals, applying them to her temples, neck, wrists. He handed the last one to Perry, who grudgingly accepted.

Marcella’s heartbeat appeared on a small screen, a solid line, even and unmoving.

The van pulled away, the burning mansion quickly shrinking in the window. Three weeks Perry had spent outside that place. Three years he’d been trying to nail Tony Hutch’s crew. Fate had handed him the perfect witness, and he’d be damned if he was giving her back without a fight.

A third medic tried to tend to Perry’s burned hand, but he pulled away. “Focus on her,” he ordered.

The sirens cut through the night as the medics worked, trying to force her lungs to breathe, her heart to beat. Trying to coax life out of the ashes.

But it wasn’t working.

Marcella lay there, limp and lifeless, and Perry’s hope began to gutter, die.

And then, between one compression and the next, the horrible static line of her pulse gave a lurch, and a stutter, and finally began to beep.






“I won’t ask you again,” said Victor Vale as the mechanic scrambled backward across the garage floor. Retreating—as if a few feet would make a difference. Victor followed slowly, steadily, watched as the man backed himself into a corner.

Jack Linden was forty-three, with a five-o’clock shadow, grease under his nails, and the ability to fix things.

“I already told you,” said Linden, jumping nervously as his back came up against a half-built engine. “I can’t do it—”

“Don’t lie to me,” warned Victor.

He flexed his fingers around the gun, and the air crackled with energy.

Linden shuddered, biting back a scream.

“I’m not!” yelped the mechanic. “I fix cars. I put engines back together. Not people. Cars are easy. Nuts and bolts and fuel lines. People are too much more.”

Victor didn’t believe that. Had never believed that. People were more intricate perhaps, more nuanced, but fundamentally machines. Things that worked, or didn’t, that broke down, and were repaired. Could be repaired.

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